AWAKE (2021) ½
2021, R, 96 mins.
Gina Rodriguez as Jill / Ariana Greenblatt as Matilda / Barry Pepper as Pastor / Shamier Anderson as Dodge / Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Murphy / Frances Fisher as Doris / Ariana Greenblatt as MatildaDirected by Mark Raso / Written by Raso, Joseph Raso, and Gregory Poirier
ironic that AWAKE is a post-apocalyptic thriller that features a premise
that shows a world where no one on the planet can sleep after a
cataclysmic event...because this Netflix original is an easy cure for
This Mark Raso
written/directed end-of-the-world affair reminded me a lot of those many
high concept driven, but idiotically scripted and executed M. Night
Shyamalan efforts that thinks they were a hell of lot more clever than
they actually are. Perhaps
the best way to describe AWAKE is that it's a premise dead zone, mostly
for how it takes one with a reasonable amount of intrigue and does nothing
fully realized with it. Outside
of a host of logic gaffes, a tired been-there/done-that tale of
family survival, and some scattershot focus, there's very little meat left
on the bones of this thriller to make it feel like a full course cinematic
meal; it's more like a weak tasting snack.
But, yeah, the
concept behind AWAKE conjures up limitless storytelling options: What
if humanity couldn't go to sleep...again...like...ever?
This premise reminded me of the great mid-2000 sci-fi thriller CHILDREN
OF MEN, which showcased and bleak and oppressive future when all
women have become infertile and can't give birth to any new babies.
It was bone chilling to think that this film's society would never
see new people enter the world, leaving humans slowly going into
extinction. Imagine a world
of people that have permanent and incurable insomnia. That's also chilling, mostly because we all know the
lingering short and long term side effects of sleep deprivation on the
mind, body, and spirit. People
would eventually descend into madness and humans would all die within a
matter of several days...that is unless a cure can be quickly found.
AWAKE is sort of a pandemic inspired thriller, in a round about
way, but instead of a killer virus rampaging its way through civilization
a geomagnetic storm has hit the Earth, rendering all electronics
inoperable and dead alongside making the population unable to go nighty-night.
The sheer complexity of such a premise is rarely, if ever,
thoroughly formed here, leaving viewers asking far too many questions
while watching the film instead of just being fully immersed in the horror
of it all.
The film opens up
by introducing us to a pre-cataclysm world as we see medical research
security guard Jill (Gina Rodriguez) trying to acclimate herself back to
civilian life after a failed military career and past addiction issues.
She lost her children years ago because of the demons that she
battles, with the eldest in Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and youngest in Matilda
(Ariana Greenblatt) now living with their grandmother (Frances Fisher).
One proverbial fateful day changes all of their lives forever when
a massive EMP-like worldwide event occurs, sending the planet back to the
technological stone age. Worse
yet is the startling realization that this estranged family unit - along
with just about everyone else still alive - have lost any ability to fall
asleep...with one catch: Matilda - in true chosen one form - seems
to be the only human left anywhere that can sleep, leaving her a highly
valuable commodity to scientists that need to find a cure for this severe
problem and fast. With the
nightmarish thought that her days left alive are extremely limited, Jill
decides to take her children on a long and dangerous trek to a top secret
government base budded "The Hub" that contains what's left of
the few sane and able minded researchers that hope to be human race's best
last chance of learning how Matilda is able to lose consciousness in order
to provide a cure for everyone else.
Predictably, the road is extremely bumping along the way.
One of the very
few bright spots of AWAKE is the presence of Rodriguez as the main heroine
here, and as she demonstrated in 2019's problematic action thriller MISS
BALA she's able to elevate weak material with a deeply invested
performance. Here, she has to
play a character that has to be a confident leader and caregiver to her
kids during while also staving off mental and physical deterioration caused
by her sleepless condition. I like movies that show the psychological implosion of
characters when greeted with impossible odds to beat, and Rodriguez is in
top form here playing a less than squeaky clean maternal figure. AWAKE takes great pains to define Jill with multiple rough
edges (she's an ex-addict on top of being a drug pusher - she steals
expired drugs from her medical facility and sells them to any neighborhood
dealer that she can find), and one that has made many categorical blunders
in her life via some questionable choices.
And speaking of
roughed edged, but AWAKE is also unexpectedly brutal in its violence and
depiction of a society very quickly coming unglued at the seams.
Raso understands that how insanity begins to settle in for people
that can't sleep, and he's definitely not shy when it comes to showing the
shocking mayhem that begins to unravel as a result of this. There's some potentially compelling religious exploration in
the film as well, with one subplot involving Jill and her family trying to
seek refuge in a local church, overseen by a kindly pastor (Barry Pepper)
that believes that Matilda is a unique gift from God because of her
newfangled gift to sleep. He
implores his followers to do everything they can to protect her at all
costs, but many others have changes of heart on the matter.
There's a whole underlining theme here (as is the case with most
pandemic and/or post-apocalyptic thrillers) of how normally good and honor
bound people become easily susceptible to committing hellish acts of
bloodshed while trying to ensure their survival, and AWAKE scores some
points for highlighting people returning to their most primitive instincts
for all the wrong reasons.
AWAKE still commits so many other countless cinematic sins that it
essentially erodes its few good qualities.
The overall family arc with Jill and her offspring has seen the
light of day in countless other genre efforts, so much so that this film
truly suffers at trying to make it all seem distinct (mother shields kids
from the horrors of a post-apocalyptic world and will stop at nothing to
protect them...the chaos that erupts all around them...the pure evil the
tries to thwart their efforts...and so on and so on).
And for as good as Rodriquez is here, Jill's pre-apocalypse life is
barely scrutinized at all, not to mention that her wartime experience and
past battles with sobriety are only sketchily developed, leading to her
feeling undefined and underwritten in terms of motivations.
The supporting cast doesn't fare better in the scripting
department. Actors like
Pepper and Jennifer Jason Lee (who plays a mysterious doctor that may or
may not be a key in ensuring the survival of humanity) are hastily
introduced, then forgotten about, only to make impromptu appearances later
to the point of audience confusion. There
are too many times when AWAKE seems like it was severely trimmed from a
longer and more cohesively comprehensible length, making many storytelling
particulars in the final product feel rushed and disorganized.
Leigh in particular has such limited screen time that you have to
wonder why an actress of her caliber is even in such a nothing,
woefully bumpy character dynamics and plotting, AWAKE's attempts at
building up its macabre premise are painfully mediocre at best.
It's not that we need a detailed explanation behind this horrific
phenomenon (I hate it when movies hold audience members by the hands in
this respect), but Raso seems frustratingly unwilling to explore the
rational questions that this TWILIGHT ZONE premise elicits (like, for
example, why don't governments quickly secure and ration out sleeping
pills to the survivors...or...why don't people just try to knock each
other out unconscious?). But...yeah...I
know...the script here relays that unconsciousness is an impossibility
(well, for most...how inconvenient!) and has no treatment or cure (how
super inconvenient!), which is just lazy writing to avoid the most basic
of viewer queries. We later
learn that chimps are the only animals outside of humans that can't sleep,
so why aren't scientists studying those other animals that can instead of
focusing on Matilda as a last ditch Hail Mary saving throw for the planet?
Also, many people go crazy very quickly in this film, stretching
credulity to the max. Would
this many people that have been sleep deprived for a few days be driven so
swiftly to shared hallucinations and mental/physical fatigue that forces
them to commit...say...mass murder?